TV Recap: Homeland, Season 3 Premiere

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Plot: The show resumes in the fallout period of the bombing of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Former Senator Nicholas Brody (Damian Williams) is on the lam after his video confession that was made one year prior (right before his failed suicide bombing/assassination of the Vice President) is made public. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is put before a Congressional grilling and may also be being used as a scapegoat for the CIA’s blunders. Saul Berensen is now in charge of the agency and must try and save it from extinction — even if it means approving an operation he’s morally opposed to.

It’s a real testament to the quality of a show’s cast and writing staff when they can deliver an absolutely thrilling and taught season premiere without it’s main character onscreen.

That’s right, Brody was nowhere to be seen. No flash of where he might be hiding out, no messages to his family or Carrie, nothing.

Yet, even without the ginger dynamo that has fueled the series, Homeland’s third season premiere (titled “The Woman Behind the Curtain”) absolutely killed it.

The ashes of Langley loom both physically and metaphorically in the background of every character’s life. The time for mourning has ended and the time for blame and finger-pointing has begun. Carrie is once again off her meds and is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Saul is nearly paralyzed with fear as the fate of the CIA rests with every decision he makes. The Brody’s are reeling from an attempted suicide by Dana (Morgan Saylor) and the doctor’s are blaming Jess (Morena Baccarin) for not seeing the warning signs.

This air of guilt, blame, sorrow and pain only heightens the dramatic tension of the series. Each character has been backed into a corner and forced them into a state of desperation and survival. This is particularly evident in Saul, who seems to forsake his personal beliefs in order to save the CIA. Carrie is always desperate and in survival mode, but without the aid of her meds, she’s even more fragile and dangerous than before.

Yet, it’s not just character development that had us riveted. One of the hallmarks of this series is the ability to interject intense, suspenseful and well thought out action sequences into the mix. Tonight, was quite possibly the series’ best effort as it had a terrific segment featuring assassin Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) staging a one-man assault on a compound in South America. Friend has made for an excellent full time addition to the show as he’s made Quinn both a convincing tough guy and a man with a moral compass…a somewhat damaged compass, but it’s still there.

The acting in the episode, without surprise is brilliant. Danes continues to amaze as the mentally unstable Carrie. You’d think that her always on the edge of tears act would’ve gotten tired by now, but no, Danes find a new shade of crazy to pull out of her hat. Take a close look at her Congressional panel testimony and look at the nervous facial ticks that Danes employs. It’s a little detail like this that makes Homeland so incredible and why Danes is a consecutive Emmy winner for this role.

Mandy Patinkin has always been the emotional rock of this series so it’s really intriguing to seem him come undone. He’s questioning himself at every step, he really doesn’t trust anyone. It’s a far cry from the man who always seemed to know what to do. Where they take this character is going to be extremely interesting because I think we’re going to see a whole new side of Saul Berenson.

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If the premiere had one weak spot, it’s the same weak spot Homeland has always had — The Brody Family. This is probably just a personal preference, but I’ve never cared for this aspect of the show. It’s been a bit repetitive at times and on my end there’s no emotional investment in these characters outside of pity for Jess. The suicide attempt by Dana is not a surprise and her reckless response to it (sexting her new boyfriend who she met in a mental institution mere moments after her release) was a little too expected. Yet, it was when Dana overheard Jess and her grandmother talking about her that really induced an eye roll. How is this one character always hearing things she shouldn’t? And you know her reaction is going to be this self-destructive, way too dramatic response. It’s getting to be a bit absurd at this point.

Like I said, this a personal preference, but the less we can see of The Brodys this season, the better.

The excellence of Homeland’s third season premiere should really come as no surprise to loyal viewers. Yet, that’s the beauty of the show — once you think you have it all figured, once you think you know the characters, the story, the tone…it reminds you that you know nothing. This constant evolution and element of surprise makes Homeland one of the best, most creative and most entertaining shows on television today.

Homeland airs every Sunday night on Showtime. All photos credit: Showtime.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites